Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beggary is not a bad thing

There are many kinds of beggars on Indian streets. The children, the size negative women with malnourished kids clinging to their hips, the physically deformed or wounded, the bisexuals and eunuchs, the odd drunk fellows, and the really old thathas and ajjis. They are most noticeable at traffic signals. The moment vehicles come to a stop, they swarm them extending their arms asking for a rupee or more.

The kids are smart – they usually beseech the person saying they are hungry. The women are even more clever and say the kids clinging to their hips are hungry and they need the money to buy milk. The physically deformed or wounded don’t say anything – they just stand there before you wearing a tortured expression hoping you will become horrified enough to give them a few coins so that they move away from you quickly. The bisexuals and eunuchs plain demand the money. The drunken fellows are the least respectable in this entire lot and just earn a disdainful glance from most motorists. The thathas and hajis usually don’t target signals due to their failing bodies. They are usually seen only near temples and parks.

I have heard many stories regarding all these kind of people. The children are part of a bigger operation, like the one in SlumDog Millionaire (Hindi Movie). The women are plain lazy gypsies and the kids are not even theirs. Or worse yet, they have kids just so that they can beg on the streets and use them as props. Or they use the money they get in the name of milk to buy themselves alcohol. The wounded keep their wounds fresh and bloody just so that it will elicit more sympathy; they never let them heal completely. The deformed are not really deformed – they are usually deliberately inflicted (either by themselves or someone else), or again they are part of a beggary racket (like the one in Naan Kadavul (Tamil Movie)) or they are just pretending. The bisexuals will harass you if it happens to be a lonely signal and god forbid if you are a man. And so on and so forth. I don’t know not how true or false any of these “stories” are. And I call them that because I have never really verified any of them to be beyond that personally. What I do know is that, even if they are not true, they can be true.

While I was watching Naan Kadavul, I cried and cried. Almost the entire movie. I do not know what affected me so much about it. Many people, including my friends, called the movie too gross and ugly for their liking. If they were affected at all, they were only revolted. For me, it was the opposite. I was so drawn in towards what was happening on the screen that it was like I was one of the deformed beggars. I could almost feel their pain physically – sitting in the air conditioned Inox. Maybe I was a beggar in my previous life. I am not being flippant. And then there was SlumDog Millionaire, in which though I didn’t feel as strong emotions as I did with Naan Kadavul, it was still strong enough to affect me. These are the only two recent movies with a big enough beggary concept that I remember watching.

Few years ago, I remember having this argument with a friend on whether one should give any money to the beggars. I don’t remember which side I was on. I remember though that we decided not to. By giving them money we are only encouraging them to beg further. Whereas they should be working their asses off to earn their daily bread and not have it easy begging people. Beggary is bad for India and the entire economy. And so on and so forth. That was our logic. Oh, what high chairs we were on. Following that, I stopped giving them (I don’t know when I began!) any money. But at times, I did get off from the high chair, especially when the women came around with their kids.

In the last few years or so, I stopped buying into that logic. That beggary is bad for the economy. That people should not beg. That people should work for their living. But that did not necessarily translate into me giving beggars money when I saw them. It totally depended on my mood. There was this particular thatha though, who I clearly remember, who always managed to get me to be more charitable. In fact, he still hangs around in the same place. We used to go to this benne dosa breakfast joint where he was a regular. And I always always gave him something. I am particularly susceptible when I am eating and a beggar comes along. And for some mysterious reason, I felt an affinity to this thatha. I even contemplated giving him a new blanket that was lying unused at home.

Sometime back, I rethought about this whole beggary thing. And I found myself a theory.

Rewind many many many years back. Million years back. Before civilization happened. Land, water, and the air were free for anybody to use as they wished. There were no fences to land, fertile or barren. Fruits and veggies hung in the trees without price tags. Any animal or human could pick them and eat them. All you need to do is do a little stretch *work* to get it. No one laid claim to anything. It was a free place. Not surprisingly, there was no beggary.

Do you realize what I am getting at? Beggary can only be a byproduct of civilization and man’s greed and habit to lay claim on things. Being that the case, when resources started becoming limited only a few could play successfully at the game. While most tried hard to lay stake, a few stayed true to their nature and sought out things for free. Like they had done before. Like it was supposed to be. From nature at first. And later from others. Their only mistake is not *working* for it.

Why is this wrong? Aren’t the resources of this earth to be shared equally with all its inhabitants? How can you call the money in your pocket as your own? Like any other resource, isn’t that to be shared too?

So maybe it is a big racket. So maybe the money you give goes straight to the bar cash box. Or maybe it dissuades even the ones who want to *work* for their living showing them an easy way out. But that, THAT, should not stop you from giving. And please, rid yourself of the foolish ego that makes you ask “how will the money I give be spent.” It simply is not in your right to do that. Like how your company does not question how you spend the salary they give you. Far-fetched? So be it. But true.

Are you asking – don’t you care what happens to these beggars? Don’t you want to give them a more sustainable means of livelihood? A more respectable(?) one? Yes, sure. Most definitely. But only if that beggar is FORCED to beg. If he or she is doing it out of his own free choice, then by all means I will encourage beggary and not preach to him to find work.

The other day, my father told us what I think he read in the Bhagavad Gita. That one should do Dharma (charity) to free himself of his previous karmas. Those who are beggars today are people who forgot to do dharma in their previous lives. So whenever one comes across an opportunity to give, he should do so freely. Only if he gives will he receive.

And then there is this book called Stars Signs by Linda Goodman that I cherish. One of the things it talks about is a way to create wealth or rather a way to attract money. Money, like all things in universe, is guided by the law of action and reaction. What goes around comes around. Simple. Linda is very clear in saying that only if you spend, you will get the money back – no point hoarding it.

So whichever way you look at it, emotional, spiritual, logical, or otherwise, I can only conclude that beggary is not bad. Not bad at all.

So the next time I come across a beggar and probably the many more times to come, I will part with a bit of what’s in my purse or buy him or her something to eat. If it is the former, I will not worry where that money goes but will definitely murmur a prayer hoping it is not funding amoral activities. What’s the definition of amoral, you ask? That’s for another blog post!

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